Drug Use Among Arrestees in Anchorage

Drug Use Among Arrestees in Anchorage

Cassie Atwell and Matthew Giblin

Atwell, Cassie and Giblin, Matthew J. (Spring 2000). "Drug Use Among Arrestees in Anchorage." Alaska Justice Forum 17(1): 1, 7-8. Cocaine and marijuana are the drugs used most often by persons arrested in the Anchorage area, according to a 1999 survey of 718 arrestees under the Arrestee Drug Abuse Monitoring (ADAM) project, a national research initiative undertaken by the National Institute of Justice (NIJ). ADAM, which is aimed at generating extensive and timely data on drug use among the arrestee population, currently operates in 35 sites nationally. This article describes the ADAM program and ADAM findings in Anchorage for 563 male and 155 female adult arrestees surveyed in 1999.

An earlier Forum article, "The National Drug Strategy: Escalation of the War on Drugs" by John Angell, Fall 1989, is available online at the Justice Center Web Site.

A survey of 718 male and female arrestees in 1999 has revealed that cocaine and marijuana are the drugs used most often by those arrested in the Anchorage area. The group was studied by the Justice Center as part of the Arrestee Drug Abuse Monitoring (ADAM) project, a national research initiative undertaken by the National Institute of Justice (NIJ). The program, originally established in 1987 as the Drug Use Forecasting Program (DUF) and subsequently redesigned and renamed in 1997, operates in thirty-five sites across the country. Its purpose is to generate extensive and timely data on drug use among the arrestee population.

The drug use data obtained from ADAM have implications for both national and local research and policymaking. On a national level, the data provide a national picture of drug use and abuse among a population that is difficult to reach from other drug use data collection programs (e.g., National Household Survey on Drug Abuse). In addition, data are used to analyze the relationship between drugs and crime. On a local level, the data provide local policymakers, law enforcement officials, and treatment professionals with a valuable resource from which to identify local drug trends, evaluate existing treatment programs and ascertain the need for additional or improved programs, advise local law enforcement personnel, and assist in formulating better policy decisions.


Data collection, using a uniform protocol, takes place in thirty-five sites across the country. The uniform protocol enhances the validity of program findings while also helping to make findings comparable across ADAM sites.

Four times a year (once every quarter) the Justice Center collects data for a two-week period in both Anchorage booking facilities, Cook Inlet Pretrial and Sixth Avenue Correctional Center. The Justice Center and the Alaska Department of Corrections have worked together to administer a secure confidential collection procedure. The only criteria for inclusion in the study are that inmates must not have been in custody for more than forty-eight hours and that they must not be federal prisoners, Immigration and Naturalization Service detainees, or transfers from another facility. Once identified as eligible, the inmate is asked to participate in a two-pronged study protocol. The first part is an interview with a professionally trained interviewer. The main content of the interview focuses on current and prior drug use, and additional questions deal with criminal histories, drug treatment, educational background, desire for treatment, and demographics. The second part of the ADAM protocol involves the collection of a urine sample from the interviewee used to corroborate the information given in the interview. The specimen is shipped to a lab where it undergoes testing for the presence of ten different drugs.

Participation is strictly voluntary with the inmate having the right to refuse to answer any question asked or terminate the interview at any time. The urine sample is also voluntary and the interviewee may refuse to provide a specimen despite participating in the self-report interview. However, the sample is only collected if the inmate has completed the interview. All of the information obtained during the interview process is strictly confidential, and individual results cannot be made available to any law enforcement or prosecutorial agency. Strict measures are taken to ensure that the interviewer does not know the names of the persons being interviewed, and the survey instrument and urine sample are not marked in any way which could be traced back to the individual.

At the end of data collection the questionnaires are sent to Washington, D.C. for analysis; aggregate data are returned to each individual site for further study.

1999 Results

Though participation in the study is voluntary, the participation rate is relatively high. In 1999, 1,117 arrestees were approached; 76 per cent (n=844) contributed an interview. Of those who agreed to be interviewed, 85 per cent provided a urine specimen for testing (n=718). The results discussed below reflect findings from the participants that contributed both an interview and urine specimen.

In 1999, a total of 563 male and 155 female adult arrestees were surveyed. (Anchorage is not currently surveying juveniles.) The results are for those arrested for all offenses—not just on drug related charges. The data show that cocaine and marijuana were used most frequently by both male and female arrestees. Slightly more than half tested positive for any drug, while 25 per cent of the males and 36 per cent of the females tested positive for cocaine, and 37 per cent of males and 31 per cent of females were positive for marijuana. Less than five per cent of those arrested tested positive for opiates or methamphetamines. (See Table 1.)

The self-reported drug information shows that 31 per cent of males and 45 per cent of females admitted using either crack or powder cocaine within the last 30 days (Table 2).

Table 1. Percentage of Arrestees Found Positive for Drugs, by Sex, Age, and Race, Anchorage, 1999
Table 2. Percentage of Arrestees Reporting Drug Use in the Past 30 Days, by Age and Sex, Anchorage, 1999

Among those reporting the use of either crack or powder cocaine, males (n=108) used crack a mean 8.8 days and females (n=46), 12.7 days. The mean number of days for powder cocaine usage was 6.5 for males (n=68) and 8.6 for females (n=23). The number of days per month of reported use for marijuana was 11.2 for males (n=269) and 11.0 for females (n=69). (See Table 3.) As Table 4 shows, the data also underscore the fact that drug use is common among individuals arrested across the spectrum of crimes.

Table 3. Mean Number of Days Arrestees Used Drugs in the Past 30 Days, Anchorage, 1999
Table 4. Percentage of Arrestees Found Positive for Any Drug, by Offense Category, Anchorage, 1999

Since 1999 was the first full year of data for the Anchorage site, no statistical comparisons with previous years are possible. As data collection continues it will be possible to examine trends in drug use among Anchorage arrestees.

Applications of ADAM Data

In addition to providing a barometer of local drug use patterns among the arrested population, ADAM data have a variety of other uses. A brief overview of how the data are being used in other cities can suggest possibilities for use in Alaska.

Researchers in Philadelphia are using ADAM data to explore the impact of certain "gateway" drugs on subsequent escalation to harder drug use. In addition, the same researchers are attempting to develop a typology of drug users, which can potentially lead to varied interventions or treatment based on user type. Other researchers are examining the relationship between drugs and crime.

It should be noted, however, that the ADAM data collection effort is not limited only to information about drugs. Researchers maximize the amount of data that can be collected through ADAM by creating addenda to the survey instrument. For example, after being interviewed about their drug use patterns, arrestees in 11 ADAM sites were questioned about firearms, including their reasons for owning a firearm, method of obtaining guns, and attitudes toward firearms.

Future of the Program in Anchorage

In January 2000, the ADAM survey instrument was expanded to include more relevant data for both law enforcement and treatment professionals. It will be possible to cross-link results to other national databases such as the National Household Survey on Drug Abuse and the Treatment Episode Data Set. This, in turn, will provide even more specific information on drug use for local policymakers, treatment professionals and law enforcement. Furthermore, the Justice Center intends to supplement the new instrument with addenda specifically aimed at local issues such as alcohol use. The National Institute of Justice and the Institutional Review Board that oversees the project must first approve all addenda used.

In order to disseminate the aggregate data and enhance ADAM's utility to the Anchorage community, the Anchorage site will also assemble a Local Coordinating Council. It will include members of the community at-large as well as professionals in the areas of drug abuse treatment, the judiciary, and law enforcement. We anticipate the implementation of an outreach program that will collect one quarter's data from other areas of the state such as Fairbanks, Juneau, Barrow and Bethel.

The ADAM program is in its infancy in Alaska but has the potential to increase useful information available for professionals across the state.

Cassie Atwell and Matthew Giblin are research associates with the Justice Center.